The Signature of Koot Hoomi in Mahatma Letter IV

By Ingmar de Boer on June 26, 2018 at 10:26 pm

In “The Orthography and Pronunciation of ‘Koot Hoomi’”1 we have derived a Sanskrit orthography of the name, as kuthumi or kuṭhumi, written in devanāgarī as कुथुमि or कुठुमि.2 There is however another source for the orthography of the name, in Mahatma Letter IV (Chronologically No. 5).3 KH’s signature is written there, besides in roman script, in devanāgarī:

The first thing we may notice looking at the signature, is that it is not a rendering of Sanskrit, but of a modern Indian language like Hindi, where the implicit a- or shwa-sound in consonants is dropped under specific circumstances. Without accounting for this shwa deletion, the signature would read kuṭhahūmī lālasiṅha. There are some peculiarities to the letters, probably due to the specific hand of KH, but if we interpret the signature, rendering it in standard devanāgarī, it is written कुटहूमी लालसिंह, and, accounting for shwa deletion, it would read kuṭhūmī lālsiṅh in roman (IAST) transliteration.

There are three differences to what we have found earlier:

  1. The ṭh sound in “Koot Hoomi” is not written using the single consonant ṭha, but using the two consonants ṭa and ha. Perhaps this might suggest a different origin than the Sanskrit kuthumi/kuṭhumi, contrary to the reference to the Viṣṇupurāṇa in The Theosophist.1, 2
  2. The u-sound in “Hoomi” is long instead of short, making the accent shift to the syllable “Hoo”, in accordance with the common pronunciation.
  3. The i-sound in “Hoomi” is long instead of short.

There are other signatures of KH in the Mahatma Letters in other interesting-looking scripts, and perhaps more information on the orthography and correct pronunciation is to be derived from those.


  1. http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/the-orthography-and-pronunciation-of-koot-hoomi/
  2. R. Ragoonath Row, “The Puranas on the Dynasties of the Moryas and the Koothoomi” in The Theosophist Vol. V No. 3 (December 1883), p. 99, later published in “Five Years of Theosophy” p. 482-484, and still later in CW VI, 40-42
  3. The Theosophy Wiki: http://theosophy.wiki/en/Mahatma_Letter_No._5



Category: Mahatma Letters | 1 comment


The Orthography and Pronunciation of “Koot Hoomi”

By Ingmar de Boer on June 17, 2018 at 4:27 pm

In a short article in the Theosophist (Vol. V No. 3 (December 1883), p. 991) by Mr. R. Ragoonath Row entitled “The Puranas on the Dynasties of the Moryas and the Koothoomi” we find an interesting reference about a Ṛṣi named “Kuthumi”. In an editorial comment, HPB indicates that there may or may not be a connection between the theosophical Mahātmā and this Ṛṣi “of that name”. From this last phrase we might derive that if we know the correct Sanskrit spelling of the name of this Ṛṣi, we also know the correct Sanskrit spelling (and therefore pronunciation) of the name of the theosophical Mahātmā.

The article further relates that the Ṛṣi is mentioned in Viṣṇupurāṇa III.6.2 In H.H. Wilson’s 1840 translation (which was known to HPB), the location is easily found, on p. 282:

Lokakshi, Kuthumi, Kushidi, and Langali were the pupils of Paushyinji; and by them and their disciples many other branches were formed.

In the critical edition of the Viṣṇupurāṇa by M.M. Pathak (of 1997-1999), we find the passage in line III.6.6 (here from GRETIL):

lokākṣiḥ kuthumiś caiva kuṣīdī lāṅgalis tathā / pauṣpiñjiśiṣyās tadbhedaiḥ saṃhitā bahulīkṛtāḥ // ViP_3,6.6 //

The IAST transliteration used here is “kuthumi”, spelled कुथुमि in devanāgarī. Moreover, in the 1866 edition of Wilson’s translation (Vol. III p. 60) a note is added by Fitzedward Hall, mentioning that the name is alternatively spelled “kuśumi”.

The pronunciation of the name naturally varies in different theosophical and other circles, but the most generally used English spelling “Koot Hoomi” wrongly suggests that it is pronounced with a pause between kut and humi, as does the common abbreviation “K.H.”. Also, it is generally pronounced with the accent on “hu”, which would be incorrect. The syllables would be “ku”, “thu” and “mi”, the accent being on on the first syllable. For correct hyphenation (in some languages) this will also make a difference. The spelling with “oo” also suggests that the “u” vowels are long, while in fact they are short, as is the “i” at the end.

Knowing the Sanskrit orthography, we have a starting point to find out more about the etymology of the name. Obviously, a reference to the “koothoompa’s”, supposedly a Tibetan group of followers of Koot Hoomi, should not be taken as a clue to a possible Sino-Tibetan origin. Further, the probable spelling of the name in Tibetan (Wiley transliteration) would be “ku thu mi”, from which “kut hum pa” or “ku thum pa” would be incorrect derivations.

Looking up “kuthumi” some of the available Sanskrit dictionaries (Monier-Williams, Böhtlink & Roth), we find that the word is a proper name which is identical to “kuthumin” and that a variant would be “kuṭhumi”. Some other places are mentioned where the name is used. Also the alternative spelling “kuśumi” indicated by Fitzedward Hall may be a clue as to the origin. Perhaps we might think of a Dravidian origin of the word. However, following up on this is beyond the scope of this short note.


1. Two years later (1885), this article was published in “Five Years of Theosophy” p. 482-484, and in 1954 in CW VI, 40-42.
2. See also the Theosophy Wiki: https://theosophy.wiki/en/Koot_Hoomi



Category: Sanskrit Texts | No comments yet


The Uttara-tantra: The Sublime Continuum?

By David Reigle on May 31, 2018 at 11:51 pm

A new English translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, also known as the Uttara-tantra, was published last year (2017), along with the commentary by Rgyal tshab dar ma rin chen. It was translated by Bo Jiang, and is titled: The Sublime Continuum and Its Explanatory Commentary, by Maitreyanātha and Noble Asaṅga, with The Sublime Continuum Supercommentary, by Gyaltsap Darma Rinchen. In recent decades, this famous text attributed to Maitreya has increasingly come to be referred to as The Sublime Continuum, a translation of the Tibetan translation of its Uttara-tantra alias, Rgyud bla ma. Unfortunately for Maitreya, this is not what the title Uttara-tantra means, not how it would be understood in India. It is an early misunderstanding of Rgyud bla ma, going back to at least fourteenth-century Tibet. This can now be seen, thanks to the discovery of the original Sanskrit text of the Ratnagotravibhāga in 1934 and its publication in 1950. The early misunderstanding apparently resulted, at least in part, from ambiguities in the Tibetan translation of this text.

As is well known, a single Tibetan word must often translate two or more different Sanskrit words. The Tibetan word rgyud must translate the Sanskrit words tantra as well as saṃtāna (and its derivative, sāṃtānika). A tantra is usually a kind of “text,” and also the “teaching” or “doctrine” or “science” taught in it, while a saṃtāna is a “continuum,” usually the continuum of a person. Of the twenty-one occurrences of the word rgyud in the canonical Tibetan translation of the Uttara-tantra and its Indian commentary, it translates tantra seven times, saṃtāna five times, and its derivative sāṃtānika nine times. Of the seven times rgyud translates tantra, one is in the title, five are in the title as repeated in the five chapter colophons, and one is in chapter 1, verse 160, referring to the title.

So the word rgyud as found in the title, Rgyud bla ma, translates tantra, whereas the word rgyud as found in the text itself translates saṃtāna (or sāṃtānika), with the single exception of in verse 1.160 where it refers to the title. The word rgyud as saṃtāna, used in the text itself, does indeed refer to a continuum, although that of a sentient being (e.g., 4.46: saṃtāna . . . prajāsu = ‘gro ba’i rgyud; 1.25 commentary: sattva-citta-saṃtāna = sems can gyi sems kyi rgyud). But the word rgyud as tantra, used in the title, refers to a teaching or a text. While “continuum” is one of the meanings of tantra, our concern is the meaning that was intended by the author. An uttara-tantra is a later or additional teaching, and has long been familiar in India as the concluding part of the famous medical work, Suśruta-saṃhitā. Thus, uttara-tantra refers to a teaching, a teaching that is a continuation, but not a continuum. Here uttara is usually understood to mean “later,” as contrasted with pūrva, “earlier,” but also implying its other main meaning, “higher,” i.e., a more advanced teaching.

Indeed, the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra uses the example of a physician teaching the eight branches of medicine to his son, and only when these are mastered teaching him the uttara-tantra, the later and higher teaching. It then compares this with the Buddha first teaching about purifying the mental/moral afflictions (kleśa), the absence of self (anātman), etc., as the earlier branches, and only then teaching the uttara-tantra, the later and higher teaching, that of the tathāgata-garbha. The tathāgata-garbha, “embryo of a buddha,” i.e., the buddha-nature found in everyone, is of course the main subject of the book called Uttara-tantra. There can be little doubt that the authors of the Uttara-tantra and its Indian commentary were familiar with the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, since the reader is referred to it for more information in the commentary on verse 1.153.

The meaning of the title Uttara-tantra as “The Later/Higher Teaching” is confirmed in verse 1.160, saying, “but here in the later/higher (uttare) teaching (tantre),” as contrasted with what was taught earlier (pūrva). What was taught earlier (1.156) is that “all is empty in every way” (śūnyaṃ sarvaṃ sarvathā).” What was taught here later is “the existence of the element” (dhātv-astitvam), that “the buddha-element exists in every sentient being” (buddha-dhātuḥ . . . sattve sattve ‘sti). The buddha-element is a synonym of the tathāgata-garbha, the primary subject of the book called Uttara-tantra. The Tibetan commentators who take the title Rgyud bla ma to mean the sublime continuum understand this to refer to the unbroken continuum of the buddha-element, or a synonym of it such as the dharma-dhātu. Ironically, Gyaltsap Darma Rinchen is not one of these commentators. Gyaltsap favors the later (phyi ma) teaching as the meaning of the title. Bo Jiang did not use “the sublime continuum” in his 2008 thesis that became the book of that title. That title may have been an editorial change.

Another kind of ambiguity in the Tibetan translation, one that may have contributed to understanding the title as the sublime continuum, is seen in verse 1.160, the only place in the text where the words uttara and tantra occur. Both terms are in the locative case, uttare and tantre, “in the uttara tantra.” In the Tibetan translation of this verse, however, the locative case marker was omitted in order to fit the meter, which is strictly regulated by the total number of syllables per line: slar yang bla ma’i rgyud ‘dir ni. Thus, in Tibetan translation, this verse no longer explicitly says that the existence of the element was taught “in” the uttara tantra. Moreover, the final Tibetan “ni” in this line typically marks off the subject, making it at least possible to take the uttara tantra as the element that was taught. If the buddha-element is equated with the uttara tantra, it becomes easy to see the uttara tantra as the sublime continuum rather than the later teaching. Nonetheless, there are weighty reasons to avoid making this equation.

It is only fitting to bring in comments made by award-winning Tibetan translator Gavin Kilty from a 2007 post to an internet Kālacakra forum that started this inquiry. Referring to “The Sublime Continuum,” he wrote: “If this really is a term referring to the tathāgata essence, the subject of the first and main chapter of the book, then you would expect the term uttara-tantra to crop up many times in the book itself. How often does it appear? Not once. Nowhere (except for once when it refers to the book itself) is it to be found in the discussion of this topic. Terms used are tathāgata essence (de bshegs snying po, tathāgata-garbha), element (khams, dhātu) and lineage (rigs, gotra). These three terms are used interchangeably to describe the same thing but uttara-tantra is not used once.” Gavin had translated the first chapter of the Uttara-tantra for the FPMT, unpublished.

Besides verse 1.160, the one known Indian source that explains the title, Uttara-tantra, is a ṭippaṇī, brief textual notes, by Vairocana-rakṣita. He glosses it as uttara-grantha, taking tantra as grantha, “book.” Likewise, in the very early Chinese translation of the Uttara-tantra made from the Sanskrit by Ratnamati in 511 C.E. (Nanjio no. 1236, Taisho no. 1611), the word tantra in verse 1.160 is translated with the Chinese equivalent for śāstra, “treatise” (Jikido Takasaki, A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra), p. 306 fn. 18). Thus, tantra was not understood as a continuum. The title of this text, then, Ratna-gotra-vibhāgo Mahāyānôttara-tantra-śāstram, was apparently understood in India as “The Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, A Treatise on the Later/Higher Teaching of the Mahāyāna.” The descriptive title was not understood as “A Treatise on the Sublime Continuum of the Mahāyāna.” As noted by many commentators, the later/higher teaching of the Mahāyāna obviously refers to the third promulgation of the Buddhist teachings, or turning of the wheel of the dharma, in contradistinction to the second promulgation. This may be described as a continuation, even a sublime continuation, but not as a continuum, the sublime continuum.


Category: Ratnagotravibhaga | No comments yet


More on the Recently Rediscovered Kālacakra-mūla-tantra Section

By David Reigle on March 31, 2018 at 11:52 pm

Not long after my July 9, 2017, post, “Kālacakra-mūla-tantra Section Rediscovered,” I received valuable input on it from three persons, all highly accomplished scholars and translators. I am very grateful to them for this. I delayed posting this information, thinking that I might also be able to add something about the contents of this text. This turned out to be a bigger task than I expected, because of the possibly controversial nature of some of its contents, and I ended up not doing so. So after this too long delay, I here post and discuss the valuable information that I received from these three.


The Title

First, on the title, Harunaga Isaacson kindly pointed out that my translation of it is not accurate. I had written: It is the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara section, the section on “the good qualities possessed by the best guru.” This may give the general meaning, but the Sanskrit title cannot be construed this way. It must be construed as: “Bearing/Holding the good qualities of the best guru.” Further, Prof. Isaacson noted that the Sanskrit title given in the text might possibly be a back translation into Sanskrit from Tibetan, and therefore might not be the original title. The Tibetan title by which the text is usually quoted by Tibetan writers, given on the title page of the Tibetan text, is bla ma’i yon tan yongs su bzung pa [ba]. This, as he suggested, would more likely represent Sanskrit Guru-guṇa-parigraha, for which he suggested an English translation, “Taking/Seizing on the good qualities of the teacher.” He further noted that this is reminiscent of the famous line, often quoted also by Kālacakra authors: ācāryasya guṇā grāhyā doṣā naiva kadācana. This may be translated as: “The good qualities of the teacher should be apprehended/perceived, never the faults at any time.” Prof. Isaacson later added that even the Tibetan title that is given in the opening lines as the translation of the Sanskrit title, Gtso bo[r] bla ma’i yon tan bzung pa [ba], might suggest as a possible underlying Sanskrit title something like Pradhāna-guru-guṇa-grahaṇa rather than the given Para-guru-guṇa-dhara.


The Text and Its Authenticity

As John Newman reminded me, he had referred to this text already in a note to an article published in 1987. I had a memory of this, and actually looked for it, but could not find his reference before I made my post. He had written that this text was known to Bu ston, who was one of the main compilers of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, but it was not included in the Narthang manuscript Kangyur that he helped compile. This Narthang manuscript Kangyur became the (or a) basis, whether directly or indirectly, for most (if not all) of the later blockprint Kangyurs, which helps to explain why this text is absent in them. John Newman in his article, “The Paramādibuddha (the Kālacakra Mūlatantra) and Its Relation to the Early Kālacakra Literature,” Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 30, 1987, p. 99 note 17, wrote:

“Bu ston (writing ca. 1322) reports three erstwhile sections of the Kālacakra mūlatantra whose authenticity was questioned: (1) lCe spyang rol pa, (2) rDo rje glu gar, and (3) bLa ma’i yon tan yongs su bzung ba (Nishioka 1983: 70; index #1551-1553). Phur lcog Ngag dbang byams pa lists the same three texts in his dkar chag to the sNar thang Kanjur: sNar thang bka’ ‘gyur, KA, f. 104a/3-4 (I am indebted to Ven. Jampa Samten for pointing this passage out to me). Ngag dbang byams pa says these texts are not in the sNar thang Kanjur because Bu ston did not insert them among the tantras. Even so, he adds that Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje and dPa’ bo gTsug lag ‘phreng ba accepted these texts as authentic. He also mentions that they appear in the dkar chag of dBus pa bLo gsal, one of the editors of the Old sNar thang Kanjur. It is possible that these texts still exist in one of the gsung ‘bum or other text collections of the Karma bKa’ rgyud school.”

The reference to Nishioka 1983 is to “Index to the Catalogue Section of Bu-ston’s ‘History of Buddhism’ (III),” Annual Report of the Institute for the Study of Cultural Exchange, The University of Tōkyō, vol. 6, 1983, pp. 47-201. There we read, p. 70:

“bkol ba’i rgyud kyi dum bu gyi jo’i ‘gyur | yang bkol ba’i rgyud lce spyang rol pa dang | rdo rje glu gar dang | bla ma’i yon tan yongs su bzung ba dang gsum | ‘di rnams kha cig ma dag par ‘dod do ||”

Besides giving the three texts listed by John Newman, this tells us that they were translated by Gyi jo, the Tibetan lotsawa who worked with the Indian teacher Bhadrabodhi to produce the first ever Tibetan translations of Kālacakra texts, including the Kālacakra-tantra and its large Vimala-prabhā commentary. It also tells us that these three texts were regarded as “not pure” (ma dag pa), i.e., not authentic as John Newman put it better, by “some” (kha cig), the “some” remaining unnamed.

The dkar chag, the index or table of contents volume, of the Narthang Kangyur (snar thang bka’ ‘gyur), provides further information, as summarized by John Newman. This dkar chag is to the later Narthang blockprint edition. The Tibetan, from the Comparative Kangyur, vol. 106, p. 267, lines 17-21, is:

“rtsa rgyud kyi dum bu bla ma’i yon tan yongs bzung dang rdo rje glu gar gyi rgyud | ce spyang tshogs rol gyi rgyud de rtsa ba’i rgyud gsum du grags pa | bu ston gyis rgyud du ‘jug par ma mdzad pas ‘dir yang med | karma pa rang byung rdo rje | dpa’ bo gtsug lag ‘phreng ba bcas la rgyud rnam dag tu bzhed | dbus pa blo gsal gyi dkar chag tu’ang yod do ||”

After listing the three texts, this tells us that they were not included among the tantras (in the old manuscript Narthang Kangyur) by Bu ston, so they are also not included here (in the new blockprint Narthang Kangyur). It then says that Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje (1284-1339, the Third Karmapa) and dPa’ bo gTsug lag ‘phreng ba (1504-1566, Kagyu author of Chos ‘byung khas pa’i dga’ ston, “History of Buddhism: A Scholar’s Feast,” an important historical work comparable to Bu ston’s Chos ‘byung, History of Buddhism), accepted them as “pure” (rnam dag), i.e., authentic. It adds that they are also found in the dkar chag (of the old manuscript Narthang Kangyur) written by dBus pa bLo gsal (13-14th century).

To these sources may now be added the data from the dkar chag of the very old Yunglo Kangyur (g.yung lo’i bka’ ‘gyur), also written Yongle (from the Chinese). This was the first blockprint edition of the Kangyur, produced in 1410 C.E. Its data on this has become conveniently available in the Comparative Kangyur, vol. 105, p. 384, lines 14-16:

“rtsa mi’i rgyud gsum du grags pa lce spyang rol pa dang | rdo rje glu gar dang | bla ma’i yon tan yongs su bzungs ba gsum | rgyud yang dag du mi mdzad pas ma bkod do ||”

This source indicates Tsa mi (rtsa mi) as the translator of these three texts, rather than Gyi jo as was stated by Bu ston in the catalogue section of his Chos ‘byung, “History of Buddhism.” The colophon of the rediscovered Para-guru-guṇa-dhara (as I will continue to call it) also indicates Tsa mi as the translator (see below). Like the dkar chag of the Narthang edition, this dkar chag says that these texts were not included (in the Yunglo edition) because they were not considered to be authentic. By whom they were not considered to be authentic is not stated.

Regarding another one of these three texts besides the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara, namely, the Rdo rje glu gar gyi rgyud, we also have some material from it. This was found, again thanks to the ability to search the extensive Buddhist Digital Resource Center database of digital Tibetan texts. The Third Karmapa Rang byung rdo rje begins his Dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i mchod pa’i cho ga with a long quotation from the Rdo rje glu gar gyi rgyud. This is in Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo, vol. 12, folio side 573 ff., and also in his gsung ‘bum available at the Buddhist Digital Resource Center, vol. 10, folio sides 455-469.


The Translator

According to the colophon, as pointed out to me by Cyrus Stearns, the translator of this text is Tsa mi Sangs rgyas grags pa. This agrees with what the dkar chag of the Yunglo edition of the Kangyur says. Here is the colophon (folio side 639, lines 3-4):

rgya gar phyogs kyi paṇḍi ta || bod kyi phyogs kyi lotstsha ba || rgya bod gnyis kyi skyes cig po || me nyag chen po pa zhes grags pa’i || mkhas pa sangs rgyas grags pas bsgyur || se ston lotstsha ba la gnang ||

This tells us, as explained by Cyrus Stearns, that the text was translated by the pandit Sangs rgyas grags pa, who was both an Indian pandit (rgya gar phyogs kyi paṇḍi ta) and a Tibetan translator (bod kyi phyogs kyi lotstsha ba). He was called Me nyag chen po pa (or Mi nyag pa) because he was from Mi nyag, a part of eastern Tibet near China. He had come to India when he was young, where he lived for a long time, becoming an Indian pandit. In fact, he is said to have been the only Tibetan ever to have become an abbot of a major Indian monastery (Nālandā and/or Vajrāsana). He is usually referred to in short as Tsa mi (or rTsa mi). The last phrase of the colophon tells as that he gave this translation to Se ston lotsawa, who was one of his main disciples.

Tsa mi, living in India, translated the entire Vimala-prabhā commentary into Tibetan. This is not the translation of the Vimala-prabhā that was included in the Tengyur, and it was long presumed to be lost. But it, like the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara, was recently recovered and was published in the same series. Its first three chapters are found in Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo, vol. 3, and its last two chapters are found in vol. 4, immediately before the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara.

According to the Rwa tradition as reported by Bu ston, translated by John Newman (The Wheel of Time, 1985, p. 69, or his 1987 thesis, The Outer Wheel of Time, p. 84), Tsa mi and Somanātha and Abhayākara-gupta and others were co-disciples of Kālacakrapāda the younger. The translations of the Kālacakra-tantra and Vimala-prabhā made by Somanātha and ‘Bro lotsawa are the ones that are now found in the Kangyur and Tengyur. Since Tsa mi and his co-disciples lived within two generations from the time of the introduction of the Sanskrit Kālacakra texts into India, there would be no reason to suspect a corruption in the transmission lineage of the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara to the translator Tsa mi.

Something I noticed in the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara also speaks for its authenticity as an originally Sanskrit text. The one known and undisputed section of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra is the Sekoddeśa. It is written entirely in the anuṣṭubh or śloka meter, have eight syllables per metrical foot. This meter was always translated into Tibetan in metrical feet having seven syllables. Most of the Tibetan translation of the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara also consists of metrical feet having seven syllables. However, at folio side 612, line 5, it switches from a seven-syllable metrical foot to a nine-syllable metrical foot. It then switches back to a seven-syllable metrical foot on folio side 617, line 6. The nine-syllable metrical feet indicate a change in meter in the Sanskrit original. A forger would hardly have made this change in a text that was expected to be entirely in the anuṣṭubh or śloka meter.

Category: Kalacakra, Kālacakratantra | 1 comment


Book of the Golden Precepts in Tibetan?

By David Reigle on January 31, 2018 at 11:33 pm

In my “Report on a Search for the Book of the Golden Precepts in Kalimpong, March 1998,”1 I quoted Anthony Elenjimittam saying that he, with the help of a Tibetan Lama, had compared the original (apparently Tibetan) of The Voice of the Silence, the “Book of the Golden Precepts,” with Blavatsky’s English translation, in Kalimpong around 1950:

“In my return to Kalimpong I stayed in the Tibetan monastery, taking part in their choral office and learning various branches of Mahayana and Tantrism. It was in that monastery that I first read with Lama Ping the Voice of Silence, the Book of Golden Precepts, with the English translation by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. With the help of the Tibetan Lama I could compare the English translation made by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky with the original, taking notes from the interpretation given by the Lama.”2

Some years later (around 1965), he published an edition of The Voice of Silence in Bombay, with his own commentary. From the late 1990s until last month I had been unable to consult this edition, to see if he said anything more in it about the original. The only copy of this book listed on WorldCat (OCLC) is held by the British Library. They were not willing to lend it through interlibrary loan or to photocopy it or scan it. Finally, with the help of intermediaries Robert Hütwohl and Leslie Price, arrangements were made for Janet Lee to visit the British Library and see it in person. She was able to photograph all of its pages with her smartphone, and she kindly sent them to me. So at last I was able to see what is in this book.

The WorldCat listing, apparently provided by the British Library, is as follows:

The Voice of Silence. Translated from the Tibetan by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky [or rather, written by her]. With a commentary by Anthony Elenjimittam. Bombay: Aquinas Publications, [1965?].

From this, it seemed that the bracketed “[or rather, written by her]” was included by Anthony Elenjimittam in the title. This would contradict his statement quoted above, made in 1983. In fact, access to his book showed that this bracketed material is not on his title page, but is an addition apparently made by the person who catalogued the book for the British Library. This is quite irregular for librarians to do, which is why it seemed that the bracketed material in the listing was on the title page and was put there by Elenjimittam himself. Instead, what we find in his book is:

On the cover: “Voice of Silence, English Translation by Helena P. Blavatskey, with a Commentary by Anthony Elenjimittam”

On the title page: “The Voice of Silence, Translated from the Tibetan by Helena Petrovna Blavatskey, With a Commentary by Anthony Elenjimittam”

From Anthony Elenjimittam’s Introduction, dated 1964, p. ii: “. . . THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE, or fragments from the Book of the Golden Precepts which has been beautifully translated by Helena Petrovna Blavatskey from the original Tibetan, . . .” “While preserving the original translation of the text from Tibetan by H.P.B., . . .”

From Elenjimittam’s “commentary and annotations,” pp. 35-36: “A Tibetan Lama with whom I first read the VOICE OF SILENCE in the original Tibetan and in its English translation . . . .”

As may be seen, he consistently reported that he had compared this with the original Tibetan. No one has yet found a Tibetan original for the “Book of the Golden Precepts,” part of which was allegedly translated into English by Blavatsky as The Voice of the Silence. This is despite the fact that huge numbers of Tibetan books have become available in recent decades. As I wrote in my 1998 Report, Lama Ping (actually named Lama Tinley) was from Bhutan, and went back there some time after working with Elenjimittam. The presumption was that he had the Tibetan book with him, and took it back to Bhutan when he returned there. He died in 1985. So we still seek a Tibetan original of the “Book of the Golden Precepts.”



  1. Published in Blavatsky’s Secret Books: Twenty Years’ Research, 1999, pp. 151-153 (attached as: report_search_golden_precepts_kalimpong).
  2. This statement is found in his book, Cosmic Ecumenism via Hindu-Buddhist Catholicism: An Autobiography of an Indian Dominican Monk, p. 270. Bombay: Aquinas Publications, [1983].

Category: Book of the Golden Precepts | 1 comment


Hans Malmstedt on Occult Chronology

By David Reigle on December 3, 2017 at 4:37 am

In the posts of April 29th, July 18th, and July 24th, 2012, reference was made to material by Hans Malmstedt that was cited by David Pratt. The two articles by Hans Malmstedt have now become easily available in their source journal, The Theosophical Path, posted at the Theosophical University Press website. I have extracted the two articles and now post them here. They are:

The Cycles of the Cosmos, Hans Malmstedt 1931

Our Position in Time on Globe D, Hans Malmstedt 1933

Category: Occult Chronology | No comments yet


The Three Natures in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā

By David Reigle on September 7, 2017 at 11:53 pm

The Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā sūtra, the sūtra on Perfection of Wisdom in Five Hundred Lines, when describing the aggregates, etc., uses three terms that apparently refer to the three natures (svabhāva) taught in Yogācāra texts. As a Prajñā-pāramitā sūtra, it would be part of the second promulgation of the Dharma, while the sūtras behind the Yogācāra texts are part of the third promulgation of the Dharma. Because of this, the Tibetan teacher Dolpopa regarded the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā as a text of definitive meaning (nītārtha), and characterized it as one of the Buddha’s own auto-commentaries (rang ‘grel ) on the extensive Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras. Dolpopa taught that the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras should be understood by way of the three natures found in these “auto-commentaries.” However, one of the three terms used in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā in its Tibetan translation does not seem to fit well as referring to the three natures. The original Sanskrit text was long lost, and with no Indian commentary to consult even in Tibetan translation, there was no way to determine what was actually meant by this term. Fortunately, the Sanskrit original was recovered in Tibet and published in 2016 as number 20 of the important series, Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region.1

The three terms in the Tibetan translation of the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā, near the beginning, are dngos po med pa, dngos po ngan pa, and dngos po yod pa, translated by Edward Conze in 1973 as “non-existence,” “a poorish kind of existence,” and “existence,” and translated by Cyrus Stearns in 2010 as “nonexistent,” “an inferior existence,” and “existent.”2 These are supposed to correspond to the three natures: the imagined (parikalpita, kun brtags), the dependent (paratantra, gzhan dbang), and the perfect (pariniṣpanna, yongs grub). As may be seen, the second term in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā, dngos po ngan pa, “a poorish kind of existence,” or “an inferior existence,” does not seem to fit well in this scheme. Yet these English terms are fully accurate translations of the Tibetan term. With the Sanskrit now available, we can see what happened. The three Sanskrit terms are: abhāva, “non-existent,” nâbhāva (na abhāva), “not non-existent,” and sad-bhāva, “truly existent.”3 These correspond well to the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts: the imagined, the dependent, and the perfect.

The Tibetan translator, perhaps to avoid the double negative that is in the Sanskrit, na abhāva, “not non-existent,” chose dngos po ngan pa to translate this second term, ostensibly “a poorish kind of existence,” or “an inferior existence.” The common meaning of ngan pa is indeed “poorish” or “inferior,” as Conze and Stearns translated it. However, here the Tibetan translator apparently intended one of the uncommon meanings of ngan pa, namely, asat, “not true,” thus yielding “not truly existent” in contrast with the third term, “truly existent.” This meaning of ngan pa as asat can be found in the Bodhisattvabhūmi (Nalinaksha Dutt edition, 1966, p. 98): asat-saṃkathā, ngan pa’i gtam, “untrue conversation.” Another example of this meaning can be found in the Jātakamālā (P. L. Vaidya edition, 1959, p. 159): asad-dṛṣṭiḥ, lta ba ngan pa, “false view.”4

With the help of the original Sanskrit, we can now see that these three terms in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā do in fact correspond well to the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts. Three other terms that apparently refer to the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts are used in another Prajñā-pāramitā text that Dolpopo regarded as being of definitive meaning (nītārtha), and that he characterized as one of the Buddha’s own auto-commentaries (rang ‘grel ) on the extensive Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras. The Maitreya Paripṛcchā or “Questions of Maitreya” chapter of the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras in 25,000 and 18,000 lines, when describing the aggregates, etc., uses parikalpita, “imagined,” vikalpita, “conceptually differentiated,” and dharmatā, “true nature” (Tibetan kun brtags pa, rnam par brtags pa, and chos nyid ). These, too, correspond well to the three natures: the imagined, the dependent, and the perfect.

An extensive commentary on all three of the large Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras, those in 100,000 lines, 25,000 lines, and 18,000 lines, directly equates the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts with the three terms found in the “Questions of Maitreya” chapter, and uses these terms throughout in its explanations.5 Dolpopa drew heavily upon this commentary, called in short the Bṛhat-ṭīkā, “Large Commentary,” and known in Tibet as the Yum gsum gnod ‘joms, “Destruction of Objections to the Three Mother Sūtras.”6 Most of Tibetan tradition, including Bu-ston who edited the Tengyur, regarded it as being written by the early Indian teacher Vasubandhu, famous for his Yogācāra treatises. Tsongkhapa, however, held that it was written by the much later writer Daṃṣṭrāsena, because it included some late references. It is of course possible that Daṃṣṭrāsena merely added some things to the earlier text by Vasubandhu. In any case, the method of understanding the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras by way of the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts goes back at least to Dignāga, who is traditionally regarded as a direct disciple of Vasubandhu. Dignāga wrote in his Prajñāpāramitā-piṇḍārtha, verses 27-29:7


prajñā-pāramitāyāṃ hi trīn samāśritya deśanā |
kalpitaṃ paratantraṃ ca pariniṣpannam eva ca || 27 ||

The teaching in the Perfection of Wisdom is based on three:
the imagined, the dependent, and the perfect.

nâstîty-ādi-padaiḥ sarvaṃ kalpitaṃ vinivāryate |
māyôpamâdi-dṛṣṭāntaiḥ paratantrasya deśanā || 28 ||

By the words, “does not exist,” etc., all the imagined is refuted.
By the examples, like an illusion, etc., the teaching of the dependent [is given].

caturdhā vyavadānena pariniṣpanna-kīrtanam |
prajñāpāramitāyāṃ hi nânyā buddhasya deśanā || 29 ||

By the fourfold purification, the perfect is taught.
For in the Perfection of Wisdom there is no other teaching of the Buddha.


Dolpopa, then, was not innovating when he advocated understanding the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras by way of the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts. He was merely following a much older Indian tradition. This led him to find correspondences to these three natures in the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras themselves, such as the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā. He quoted the whole opening section of this sūtra at the beginning of his concise text, Ngo sprod khyad ‘phags, “Exceptional Introduction.”8 He then equated its three terms with the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts. He said the same thing, again equating its three terms with the three natures, in his Autocommentary to the “Fourth Council”.9 Thus, the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā with its three terms corresponding to the three natures was regarded by Dolpopa as a text of considerable importance for understanding the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras.




  1. Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā: Sanskrit and Tibetan Texts, critically edited by Li Xuezhu and Fujita Yoshimichi. Beijing: China Tibetology Publishing House, and Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2016.
  2. “The Perfection of Wisdom in 500 Lines,” in The Short Prajñāpāramitā Texts, translated by Edward Conze (London: Luzac & Company, 1973), p. 108. Relevant sentence quoted by Cyrus Stearns in The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications, 2010), p. 101, with reference to Dolpopa’s comment on it in his Autocommentary to the “Fourth Council”, p. 233. In the 1999 first edition this quotation is on pp. 96-97, and the three terms are translated as: “a nonexistent entity, a base entity, and an existent entity.”
  3. These three terms first describe the neuter word rūpam, “form” (p. 1), so according to their masculine gender they would be nouns rather than adjectives; e.g., “non-existence” rather than “non-existent.” However, to call form “non-existence” does not make sense to me. So bhāva is probably used here as the noun, “an existent” (an existing thing). The sentence, then, would say: “form is a non-existent, not a non-existent, and a truly existent.” This is rather awkward English. I think the same idea is conveyed by translating these terms as if they were adjectives: “form is non-existent, not non-existent, and truly existent.” This is what I have done, even though it is not a literally accurate translation.
  4. These examples are found in J. S. Negi, Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary, Sarnath, Varanasi: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, vol. 3, 1995. I have only added the English translations.
  5. Ārya-śata-sāhasrikā-pañcaviṃśati-sāhasrikâṣṭādaśa-sāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-bṛhaṭ-ṭīkā.
  6. For the English translation of this title, I follow Stearns, 2010 (see note 2 above), p. 97.
  7. The original Sanskrit was first edited by Giuseppe Tucci and published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1947, which I have scanned and posted here: http://www.downloads.prajnaquest.fr/BookofDzyan/Sanskrit%20Buddhist%20Texts/prajnaparamita_pindartha_1947.pdf. It was published again in 1959 by Erich Frauwallner in the Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens in 1959, which I have scanned and posted here: http://www.downloads.prajnaquest.fr/BookofDzyan/Sanskrit%20Buddhist%20Texts/prajnaparamita_pindartha_1959.pdf. Although Tucci also included an English translation, I have here re-translated these verses more literally.
  8. The Ngo sprod khyad ‘phags is found in volume 12 of the 13-volume modern typeset edition of the collected writings of Dolpopa, pp. 40-52 (jo nang kun mkhyen dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi gsung ‘bum, [Beijing:] krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011). For the English translation of this title, “Exceptional Introduction,” I follow Stearns, 2010 (see note 2 above), p. 422. Matthew Kapstein describes it as: “An ‘introduction’ (ngo-sprod ) to the ultimate and definitive significance (nges-don mthar-thug) of the doctrine.” (The ‘Dzam-thang Edition of the Collected Works of Kun-mkhyen Dol-po-pa Shes-rab Rgyal-mtshan: Introduction and Catalogue, p. 66. Delhi: Shedrup Books, 1992). The opening section of this sūtra that Dolpopa quoted (pp. 40-43) corresponds to the Sanskrit edition (see note 1 above), sections 1 and 2, pp. 1-4.
  9. Translated by Stearns, 2010 (see note 2 above), p. 233, and quoted by him on p. 101. In the 1999 first edition this is quoted on p. 96.

Category: Uncategorized | 1 comment


Kālacakra-mūla-tantra Section Rediscovered

By David Reigle on July 9, 2017 at 9:43 pm

A large section of the otherwise lost Kālacakra-mūla-tantra has now been rediscovered. It is approximately three times as large as the only other section known, the Sekoddeśa. It is the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara section, the section on “the good qualities possessed by the best guru.” This text is itself called a tantra in the one manuscript we now have, the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara-nāma-tantra, since the tantra it comes from is not extant. Perhaps this title is the reason why it does not yet seem to have been noticed as a section of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra, although it became available in 2014. It had been out of circulation for centuries. What led me to it was a quoted verse that for long I could not trace.

An intriguing verse from the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra was quoted by the 16th-century Kagyu writer Dakpo Tashi Namgyal (dwags po bkra shis rnam rgyal) in his well-known text on meditation, Phyag chen zla bai od zer, “Mahāmudrā, the Moonlight,” or “Moonbeams of Mahāmudrā.” This text was translated into English by Lobsang P. Lhalugpa and published in 1986 as Mahāmudrā: The Quintessence of Mind and Meditation, by Takpo Tashi Namgyal (second edition published in 2006 as Mahāmudrā, The Moonlight: Quintessence of Mind and Meditation, by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal). The verse is there introduced as “The Kālacakra-mūlatantra states:” and is translated as follows (p. 181; 2nd ed. p. 183):


The innate mind of sentient beings is luminous clarity;

From the beginning it is detached

From the absolute attributes of arising, ceasing, and settling.

Since beginningless time it has been the primordial supreme Buddha,

Because it has been unmodulated by cause and condition.


The “innate mind” is equated with “luminous clarity” (which obviously translates the Tibetan od gsal, Sanskrit prabhāsvara) and with the “primordial supreme Buddha” (which is obviously the ādi-buddha or paramādi-buddha). What is the Tibetan or Sanskrit term for this “innate mind” that is also luminosity (or the clear light) and the ādi-buddha, I wondered. Is it also in the extant shorter (laghu) Kālacakra-tantra or its Vimala-prabhā commentary? The Tibetan text of this verse could be found in the 1978 publication, Ṅes don phyag rgya chen po’i sgom rim gsal bar byed pa’i legs bśad zla ba’i ‘od zer, or in short, Phyag chen zla ba’i ‘od zer, by Dwags-po Pan-chen Bkra-śis-rnam-rgyal, “reproduced from rare prints from the Dwags-lha Sgam-po blocks” (published at Bir, H.P., by D. Tsondu Senghe), folio side 169, lines 2-3:


dus ‘khor rtsa rgyud las |

sems can sems nyid ‘od gsal zhing |

gdod nas skye ‘gag gnas bral te |

thog ma med pa’i sngon rol nas |

dang po mchog gi sangs rgyas te |

rgyu med rkyen gyis ma bslad pa |


Having the Tibetan text of this verse meant that it was possible to try to locate its source. So I checked the only known section of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra, the Sekoddeśa, which consists of 174 verses, all of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra quotations found in the Vimala-prabhā commentary, and in the other two texts of the so-called bodhisattva-piṭaka written by the bodhisattva kings of Sambhala, the Laghu-tantra-ṭīkā and the Hevajra-piṇḍārtha-ṭīkā, and also in Nāropā’s Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā. I then asked the late Edward Henning to check the large database of Tibetan Kālacakra texts that he had assembled. I even checked the extant (laghu) Kālacakra-tantra for good measure, even though the meter is quite different. No results in any of these sources. Yet I knew that Dakpo Tashi Namgyal would not just make up this verse. It had to exist somewhere.

In recent years the former Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, now the Buddhist Digital Resource Center, has been assembling a very large database of electronically searchable Tibetan texts, including the entire Kangyur and Tengyur. A contact regarding the ādi-buddha at the 2017 Translation and Transmission Conference reminded me of my old search, so after I returned home I searched the BDRC database for this verse. It was nowhere found in the Kangyur or Tengyur, but it appeared in the collected writings (gsung bum) of Gampopa (sgam po pa, 1079-1153), founding father of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. It was quoted twice by Gampopa in his Bstan bcos lung gi nyi od, “Sunshine of Treatises and Scriptures,” first as from the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra (dus ‘khor rtsa rgyud du), and then (with two additional preceding lines) as from the Bla ma‘i yon tan yongs su bzung ba’i rgyud. With this latter title, the text could be traced.

The Bla ma‘i yon tan yongs su bzung ba’i rgyud is found in the collection of Kālacakra texts called Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo, volume 4, pages 583-639. This set was published in Lhasa in 2012, although it did not become available until 2014. The first seven volumes of this set consist of Tibetan translations of Sanskrit texts, being either different translations than the ones found in the Kangyur and Tengyur, or in a few cases (such as this one) different texts that are not found there. Most of these texts (including this one) had been gathered from other monasteries and sealed away in the Nechu temple at Drepung Monastery around the 1650s under the direction of the Fifth Dalai Lama. They remained sealed away there until very recently (see the “Drepung catalogue,” 2 vols., 2004, where the Bla ma‘i yon tan yongs su bzung ba’i rgyud is no. 944, vol. 1, p. 105).

The opening page of the Bla ma‘i yon tan yongs su bzung ba’i rgyud gives the original Sanskrit title, which as slightly corrected by me is Para-guru-guṇa-dhara-nāma-tantra. This is followed by a Tibetan title, differing somewhat from the one found on the title page, that more closely matches the Sanskrit title: Gtso bo[r] bla ma’i yon tan bzung pa zhes bya ba’i rgyud. Still nothing tells us that this text is from the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra. Although this volume had been on my shelf since 2015, I had never checked the colophon.

The colophon on the last page (folio side 639, lines 3-4) tells us that this text, there titled Gtso bor bla ma’i yon tan bzung pa, was extracted from the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra (whose proper name is the Paramādi-buddha): dpal dang po mchog gi sangs rgyas rtsa ba’i rgyud chen po nas ‘byung pa. It also tells us that this text is a separate section of the tantra: bkol ba dum bu’i rgyud. The verse quoted from it first by Gampopa when this text was still available in Tibet, and then probably quoted from him by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal four centuries later when this text was no longer available there, is found near the beginning on folio sides 584-585. At last the verse quoted from the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra that I had long ago seen in Lobsang Lhalungpa’s translation of Dakpo Tashi Namgyal’s text had been traced to its source. The source turned out to be a long lost section of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra, and it has recently become available again.


Category: Kalacakra, Kālacakratantra | 4 comments


Mahatma Letters Problems in Transmission

By David Reigle on June 30, 2017 at 11:15 pm

As explained by Blavatsky, the vast majority of the Mahatma letters were written by chelas who functioned as amanuenses for the Mahatma author.1 This ranged from taking direct dictation from the Mahatma (usually telepathically), to clothing the ideas given by the Mahatma in the words of the chela, to the chelas themselves providing the ideas when given only a general directive. Naturally, this led to problems when the chela amanuensis was unfamiliar with the subject matter, such as when a Hindu chela had to write on a Buddhist subject.

An example of this may be seen in Mahatma letter #9, chronological #18, which was discussed here in the post, “A Mahatma Letters Puzzle” (March 31, 2017). In that Mahatma letter we read (3rd edition, p. 47): “Matter found entirely divorced from spirit is thrown over into the still lower worlds—into the sixth ‘Gati’ or ‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds, and of the primitive animal forms.” In The New American Cyclopaedia entry on which this was based we read (p. 66): “In some cases the soul of man may sink even below the 6 Gatis or ways of rebirth into the vegetable and mineral way; . . .” The English of this latter sentence, taken by itself, is somewhat ambiguous. It is possible to take “rebirth into the vegetable and mineral way” as a unit. This is apparently how the chela amanuensis of the Mahatma letter took it, so that he or she could speak of the “‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds.” However, this is not what the New American Cyclopaedia writer meant, nor is what Buddhism teaches.

As written earlier in this article by the New American Cyclopaedia writer (p. 65), Buddhism teaches these six gatis or ways of rebirth, those of: 1. the devas or gods; 2. men; 3. the asuras or bad genii; 4. animals; 5. pretas or monsters of hunger and thirst; 6. the denizens of hell. There is no “‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds” as the chela amanuensis understood it. The sentence by the New American Cyclopaedia writer should have been understood as “In some cases the soul of man may sink even below the 6 Gatis or ways of rebirth [pause] into the vegetable and mineral way; . . .” This is an example of a problem in transmission apparently caused by a chela amanuensis who was not familiar with the Buddhist teachings. The Theosophical teachings may well hold that “Matter found entirely divorced from spirit is thrown over into the still lower worlds,” but this is not “into the sixth ‘Gati’ or ‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds, and of the primitive animal forms.” The latter is not one of the six gatis or ways of rebirth taught in Buddhism.

At the conclusion of the post, “Some Mahatma Letters Sources” (April 30, 2017), I had written: “The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters are therefore often inaccurate on two counts: They are quotations from early and often unreliable translations; they are often altered to bring in esoteric teachings that are not stated in the Buddhist texts themselves.” To this we can add a third cause of inaccuracy: problems in transmission by chela amanuenses who are not familiar with the subject being discussed, and who therefore sometimes misunderstand the available sources that they are drawing upon.


  1. See Blavatsky’s letter and other related materials assembled in this file: Mahatma Letters, on writing of, HPB, etc.

Category: Mahatma Letters | No comments yet


Theosophical Glossary Sources

By David Reigle on May 31, 2017 at 1:55 pm

The Theosophical Glossary by H. P. Blavatsky, published in 1892, draws its definitions from many sources. Comparatively little of it was written by Blavatsky herself. Boris de Zirkoff laboriously located the source references for a large number of its entries, and he hand-wrote these in his copy of this book. These source annotations are of great value for students of Theosophy. They show what was merely copied from then existing sources, as opposed to Blavatsky’s own definitions. His annotated copy thus nicely complements the listings of Secret Doctrine References that were made available on the website of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, or Theosophical University Press, and the extensive supplement to these prepared by William (Bill) Savage (see blog posts of Jan. 24, 2016, and June 30, 2016).

We are very fortunate that this labor of Boris de Zirkoff did not die with him. He left his books to the Theosophical Society in America, and his annotated copy of The Theosophical Glossary is now in its Archives. Janet Kerschner and Michael Conlin spent a lot of time and effort in making a scan of this book, which they have kindly made publicly available here:


They received much assistance from Richard Robb in identifying the bibliographic sources referred to. Boris in his annotations had used brief abbreviations and brief titles that were known to him, but were not spelled out in full. A detailed listing of these, along with much other helpful information, is found at the Theosophy Wiki entry on The Theosophical Glossary, here:


To me, it is a very great boon to have access to the knowledge of where any particular entry in Blavatsky’s Theosophical Glossary came from. This allows us to evaluate its accuracy. I am extremely grateful to Boris de Zirkoff for tracing these sources, and to all involved in making this information publicly available.

Category: Uncategorized | 2 comments


Some Mahatma Letters Sources

By David Reigle on April 30, 2017 at 11:59 pm

The previous post, “A Mahatma Letters Puzzle,” ended with the statement: “The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters almost always come from then existing books, and therefore cannot be relied upon for accuracy.” This statement should be substantiated by more than just the one example given in that post (nirira namastaka = nirvva namastaka = nirvvānamastaka = nirvāṇa-mastaka, a ghost word). For this purpose we may look at the long and doctrinally important Mahatma letter #16, chronological #68, called the “devachan letter” because it is the primary source for the Theosophical teachings on the after-death states including devachan (Tibetan, bde ba can).

Before the days of digital books and electronic searches, Doss McDavid noticed many parallels between the devachan letter and passages in an 1871 book by Samuel Beal, A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese. He found that the quotations of Buddhist scriptures given in this letter come from this book. There would be no reason for the Mahatma to translate these passages himself. These letters were personal correspondence, not scholastic treatises, and were often written in haste. The Mahatma simply drew upon what was already available in order to help make his point.

From Mahatma letter #16, chronological #68, 2nd ed. pp. 99-100, 3rd ed. pp. 97-98, chronological ed. pp. 189-190:

(1) The Deva-Chan, or land of “Sukhavati,” is allegorically described by our Lord Buddha himself. What he said may be found in the Shan-Mun-yi-Tung. Says Tathâgata:—
“Many thousand myriads of systems of worlds beyond this (ours) there is a region of Bliss called Sukhavati. . . . This region is encircled with seven rows of railings, seven rows of vast curtains, seven rows of waving trees; this holy abode of Arahats is governed by the Tathâgatas (Dhyan Chohans) and is possessed by the Bodhisatwas. It hath seven precious lakes, in the midst of which flow crystaline waters having ‘seven and one’ properties, or distinctive qualities (the 7 principles emanating from the ONE). This, O, Sariputra is the ‘Deva Chan.’ Its divine Udambara flower casts a root in the shadow of every earth, and blossoms for all those who reach it. Those born in the blessed region are truly felicitous, there are no more griefs or sorrows in that cycle for them. . . . Myriads of Spirits (Lha) resort there for rest and then return to their own regions.1 Again, O, Sariputra, in that land of joy many who are born in it are Avaivartyas . . .”2 etc., etc.


1. Those who have not ended their earth rings.
2. Literally—those who will never return—the seventh round men, etc.

From Beal’s Catena, pp. 378-379:

[Translated from the Chinese version of Kumârajîva, as it is found in the Shan-mun-yih-tung.] At this time Buddha addressed the venerable Sariputra as follows:—

“In the western regions more than one hundred thousand myriads of systems of worlds beyond this, there is a Sakwala named Sukhavatî. Why is this region so named? Because all those born in it have no griefs or sorrows: they experience only unmixed joys; therefore it is named the infinitely happy land. Again, Sariputra, this happy region is surrounded by seven rows of ornamental railings, seven rows of exquisite curtains, seven rows of waving trees—hence, again, it is called the infinitely happy region. Again, Sariputra, this happy land possesses seven gemmous lakes, in the midst of which flow waters possessed of the eight distinctive qualities . . . .

“Again, Sâriputra, the land of that Buddha ever shares in heavenly delights (or music), the ground is resplendent gold, at morning and evening showers of the Divine Udambara flower descend upon all those born there, at early dawn the most exquisite blossoms burst out at their side: thousand myriads of Buddhas instantly resort here for refreshment, and then return to their own regions, and for this reason, Sâriputra, that land is called most happy. . . .

“Again, Sâriputra, in that land of perfect joy all who are born, are born as Avaivartyas (never to return), . . .”

We notice that, or order to make his point, the Mahatma emphasized certain parts of this quotation by underlining (italics in the printed version), such as the word seven. But he also changed the quotation in order to make his point, changing Beal’s “eight distinctive qualities” to “‘seven and one’ properties, or distinctive qualities (the 7 principles emanating from the ONE).” Beal’s “at morning and evening showers of the Divine Udambara flower descend upon all those born there” became “Its divine Udambara flower casts a root in the shadow of every earth, and blossoms for all those who reach it.” Beal’s “all those born in it have no griefs or sorrows” was moved down and became “there are no more griefs or sorrows in that cycle for them.” Beal’s “thousand myriads of Buddhas instantly resort here for refreshment, and then return to their own regions” became “Myriads of Spirits (Lha) resort there for rest and then return to their own regions.1,” with the footnote “1. Those who have not ended their earth rings.” Beal’s “Again, Sâriputra, in that land of perfect joy all who are born, are born as Avaivartyas (never to return),” became “Again, O, Sariputra, in that land of joy many who are born in it are Avaivartyas . . .2,” with the footnote “2. Literally—those who will never return—the seventh round men, etc.”

As may be seen, all of these changes made by the Mahatma in the quotation brought in teachings about devachan that the Mahatma was giving to his correspondent, A. P. Sinnett. It may be thought that these changes made by the Mahatma are simply more accurate translations of the Buddhist text. They are not. They are less accurate translations, but bring in esoteric interpretations of the Buddhist text. We learn what the Shan-mun-yih-tung is from Samuel Beal’s article, “Translation of the Amitâbha Sûtra from Chinese” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1866, pp. 136-144). Beal begins his translation by saying: “The Amitâbha Sûtra. Extracted from the work called ‘Shan Mun Yih Tung,’ or Daily Prayers of the Contemplative School of Priests” (p. 140). He had a few pages earlier introduced it as follows: “The following translation of the Amitâbha Sûtra is made from the Chinese edition of that work, prepared by Kumârajîva, and bound up in a volume known as the ‘Daily Prayers of the Buddhist Priests belonging to the Contemplative School’ (Shan-mun)” (p. 136). So what we have from Beal in his 1871 Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese is actually a translation of the Amitābha Sūtra. As is well known, the Amitābha Sūtra is a popular name for the shorter Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra.

The original Sanskrit text of the shorter Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra was recovered and first published by F. Max Müller in his article, “On Sanskrit Texts Discovered in Japan” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1880, pp. 153-188). It was reprinted along with the larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra in the book, Sukhāvatī-vyūha: Description of Sukhāvatī, the Land of Bliss, edited by F. Max Müller and Bunyiu Nanjio (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1883). So we can compare the original Sanskrit. The Sanskrit word for the first change, “eight” to “seven and one,” is aṣṭa, “eight.” The Sanskrit word for the second change, “showers” to “shadow,” is pravarṣati, “showers.” Further, the Sanskrit does not have “Udambara flower” here, but rather has “māndārava flower.” The third change, the addition of “in that cycle,” is not in the Sanskrit. The fourth and fifth changes are a little more complex. Beal’s translation from the Chinese does not quite match the Sanskrit, but neither do the changes introduced by the Mahatma. Of course, the added footnotes by the Mahatma bring in esoteric teachings, not found in the exoteric text.

For those who wish to pursue this in English translations, both the shorter and the longer Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtras were first translated from the original Sanskrit by F. Max Müller in Buddhist Mahâyâna Texts, Part II (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1894), = Sacred Books of the East, vol. 49. This was a pioneering translation, when the meaning of a number of Sanskrit Buddhist terms was not yet established. Both the shorter and the longer Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtras were again translated from the original Sanskrit by Luis O. Gómez, and published in Land of Bliss: The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1996). This book also includes separate translations of these two texts from the Chinese translations. The shorter Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra was translated from the Tibetan translation by Georgios T. Halkias, and published in Luminous Bliss: A Religious History of Pure Land Literature in Tibet (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013).

References to the rest of the quotations from Buddhist texts in Mahatma letter #16, chronological #68, the “devachan letter,” in Beal’s Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, are, in sequence: pp. 117, 86, 85, 90, 120, 64. Perhaps more about these and others can be posted later.

In summary, the Mahatma letters teach esoteric Buddhism. Being letters, they used then available translations of Buddhist texts for their quotations. They often altered these quotations to show the esoteric teachings. The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters are therefore often inaccurate on two counts: They are quotations from early and often unreliable translations; they are often altered to bring in esoteric teachings that are not stated in the Buddhist texts themselves.

Category: Mahatma Letters | 1 comment


A Mahatma Letters Puzzle

By David Reigle on March 31, 2017 at 11:05 pm

The term “Nirira namastaka” is found in all editions of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (1st, 2nd, and 3rd editions, p. 44, letter #9; chronological edition, p. 62, letter #18). The context may be seen in the following quotation (quoted from the 3rd edition):

“When our great Buddha—the patron of all the adepts, the reformer and the codifier of the occult system, reached first Nirvana on earth, he became a Planetary Spirit; i.e.—his spirit could at one and the same time rove the interstellar spaces in full consciousness, and continue at will on Earth in his original and individual body. For the divine Self had so completely disfranchised itself from matter that it could create at will an inner substitute for itself, and leaving it in the human form for days, weeks, sometimes years, affect in no wise by the change either the vital principle or the physical mind of its body. By the way, that is the highest form of adeptship man can hope for on our planet. But it is as rare as the Buddhas themselves, the last Khobilgan who reached it being Tsong-ka-pa of Kokonor (XIV Century), the reformer of esoteric as well as of vulgar Lamaism. Many are those who ‘break through the egg-shell,’ few who, once out, are able to exercise their Nirira namastaka fully, when completely out of the body. Conscious life in Spirit is as difficult for some natures as swimming is for some bodies.”

It appears to be an important technical term, pertaining to advanced Buddhist metaphysics. However, no such term could be identified in the 93 years since the Mahatma letters were published, even with the availability in recent decades of large numbers of primary Buddhist texts. Since photographic images of the Mahatma letters have become available, it has become possible to see if there is another way to read this term in the handwriting of the letter (http://theosophy.wiki/ML/18-12_6117.jpg). Daniel Caldwell did this last year (April, 2016), and saw that it could be read as “Nirvva namastaka.” If we now break the word differently, we find the familiar Buddhist term, “nirvvana”; i.e., “nirvana” (nirvāṇa). Daniel could then search the internet for “nirvvanamastaka.” Sure enough, as Daniel informed me, it turned up in the entry on “Buddhism and Buddha” in The New American Cyclopaedia, vol. 4, 1869 and 1870, p. 66.

Just as the similarly long unidentified phrase “Kam mi ts’har” found in the Mahatma letters was copied directly from a book existing at that time, as shown by Antonios Goyios (http://www.blavatskyarchives.com/kammitshar/kammitshar.htm), so with this term. It is even found hyphenated at the end of a line in The New American Cyclopaedia at exactly where it was wrongly broken in the Mahatma letter: Nirvvā-namastaka. There can be no doubt that this is the source from which it was taken by the Mahatma or his chela amanuensis. As Daniel pointed out, the Mahatma letter also has: “Many are those who ‘break through the egg-shell,’ few who, once out, are able to exercise their Nirira namastaka fully, when completely out of the body.” The New American Cyclopaedia has (p. 66): “He who breaks its fetters, ‘breaks through the eggshell’ and escapes the alternation of births.” Later on in this Mahatma letter we also read: “Matter found entirely divorced from spirit is thrown over into the still lower worlds—into the sixth ‘Gati’ or ‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds, and of the primitive animal forms.” (3rd edition, p. 47; the 1st and 2nd editions wrongly have ‘Gate’ for ‘Gati’). The New American Cyclopaedia has (p. 66): “In some cases the soul of man may sink even below the 6 Gatis or ways of rebirth into the vegetable and mineral way; . . .” Of course, the Mahatma letter used this term and these phrases somewhat differently, but clearly adopted them from this source.

About nirvvānamastaka, i.e., nirvāṇa-mastaka, The New American Cyclopaedia has (p. 66):

“The final goal of Buddhistic salvation is the uprooting of sin, by exhausting existence, by impeding its continuance; in short, by passing out of the Sansāra into the Nirvāna. The signification of the latter term is a prolific subject of discussion and speculation with the different philosophic schools and religious sects of Buddhistic Asia. Its interpreters prefer vague definitions, from fear of offending sectarians. It means the highest enfranchisement; to theists, the absorption of individual life in God; to atheists in naught. The Thibetans translate it by Mya-ngan-los-hdah-ba, the condition of one freed from pain; eternal salvation, or freedom from transmigration. Its etyma are: nir, not; van, to blow, and arrow; its orthography is Nirvvāna; its collaterals are: Nirvvānamastaka, liberation ; nirvvāpa, putting out, as a fire, &c. It is Nibbāna in Pali, Niban in Burmese, Niruphan in Siamese, Ni-pan in Chinese.”

So is nirvāṇa-mastaka, then, an important technical term pertaining to advanced Buddhist metaphysics? No. It is a ghost word, a word that appeared in a dictionary and was copied in other dictionaries, but has not been found in use in Sanskrit texts. According to my research, it first appeared in the 1832 second edition of Horace Hayman Wilson’s Sanskrit-English dictionary (A Dictionary in Sanscrit and English, Calcutta). It is there written nirvvāṇamastaka, and defined as “liberation,” with the etymology nirvvāṇa and mastaka, “head, chief” (p. 477). It was obviously copied from there by the unnamed writer of the “Buddhism and Buddha” entry in The New American Cyclopaedia. It is not found in the 1819 first edition of Wilson’s Sanskrit-English dictionary, nor is it found in the 1900 revised edition of Wilson’s dictionary. We may guess that one of Wilson’s assistants may have found it in some Sanskrit kośa, lexicons that often list words that are not found in use, and put it in the second edition of his dictionary. From there it was copied (but without doubling the “v”) in the relevant 1865 volume 4 of the massive 7-volume Petersburg Sanskrit-German dictionary (Sanskrit-Wörterbuch, by Otto Böhtlingk and Rudolph Roth, St. Petersburg), where it is followed by “!” and specifically stated as coming from Wilson (p. 209). It was retained in the relevant 1882 volume 3 of the shorter 7-volume Petersburg dictionary (Sanskrit-Wörterbuch in Kürzerer Fassung), keeping the “(!)” after it (p. 219). It was likewise copied in Monier Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary, both his 1872 first edition and his 1899 enlarged edition, where it is also specifically stated as coming from Wilson. It is also found in Vaman Shivram Apte’s Sanskrit-English dictionary, but no source is given. This typically means that Apte did not find it in any Sanskrit text, but copied it from previous dictionaries. It is even found in the Vācaspatyam Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary, where it is defined like a compound of such type would have to be construed: nirvāṇam nirvṛtir mastakam iva yatra, i.e., as nirvāṇa that is like the head. It is not, however, found in the earlier Śabda-kalpa-druma Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary. Nor is it found in Franklin Edgerton’s Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary. My electronic searches of massive quantities of Sanskrit texts, now possible, have failed to yield a single occurrence of this term. I even posted a query for a “textual source for nirvāṇa-mastaka” to the Indology e-list on Jan 13, 2017, consisting of several hundred Indologists working today. No one was able to come up with a textual source for this term.

The Mahatma letter is describing a form of adeptship that is not described in any Buddhist text known to me; yet in doing this the Mahatma or his chela amanuensis used a ghost word copied from an 1869 book that was in turn copied from an 1832 dictionary. We have seen other cases of this type of copying from then existing books in the Mahatma letters, as found by Antonios Goyios in the article linked above (“Tracing the Source of Tibetan Phrases Found in Mahatma Letters #54 and #92”), and there are still others that could be cited. The relevance of this to students of Theosophy is that, due to the methods used by the Mahatmas in writing their letters, terms such as this found in the Mahatma letters may not be actual Buddhist technical terms that can be found in the Sanskrit texts. As we know from a number of statements made by the Mahatmas in their letters, their method of writing was to surround themselves with material on the topic at hand that is impressed upon the ākāśa, and to draw from it what they needed. They were not native English speakers. Their letters constitute personal correspondence, often written in haste, not articles written for publication. The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters almost always come from then existing books, and therefore cannot be relied upon for accuracy.

Category: Mahatma Letters | 6 comments


de la Loubère on Tévetat

By Jacques Mahnich on March 1, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Here is short translation of the first pages which confirms the identity of Sommona-Codom (Buddha Shakyamuni) and Tévetat (Devadatta).

The life of Tévetat, translated from the “Bali” language by de la Loubère -1691

“Following the birth of Pouti Sat1, who, due to his good works during time, reached Nireupan [Nirvana], his father, King Taoufoutout checked with soothsayers to know what was his future, and what would be his son’s fate, such son who’s birth which was surrounded by so many wonders. All of them assured him he had good reason to rejoice, and that, should his son stayed in the world, he would become the emperor of the whole earth, or, if he would become a Talapoint [monk], abandoning the pleasures of the century, he would reach Nireupan [nirvana]…

His parents, some ten thousands, having learn from the soothsayers that the universal domain of this world, or the Nireupan [nirvana] would be reached by this young prince, decided together to give him, when he would be aged enough, each of them one of their son, to follow him : and so they made it. Then, when this Prince, after the seven years’ penance in the woods, became worthy of the Nireupan [nirvana], a lot of these young men we just talked about, who were following him, became Talapoins [monks] with him ; but among this large troupe, there were six who, even if they were his parents and following him, were not willing to. Here are the names, because we will not talk about them any more later. The first was Pattia, the second Anourout, the third Aanon, the fourth Packou, the fifth Quimila, the sixth Tévetat2, and this is the one we are writing the history…

One day, after Sommona-Codom preaching, Anourout was elevated to the Angel degree. In the same time, the monk Aanon reached the first level of perfection. Packou and Quimila, after having being trained for a long time in prayers and meditation, were elevated to become Angels. Tévetat could not obtain anything but a great power and the capability to perform miracles.3

Sommona-Codom having gone with his Talapoins to the town of Koufampi, the inhabitants came everyday to provide with presents, sometimes to Sommona-Codom, sometimes to Moglà and Saribout, his two preferred disciples, one sitting on his right side, the other one on his left side ; some gave presents to Kasop and to Pattia, some others to Quimila and Packou, or to Anourout, but what was remarkable is that no one gave any present to Tévetat. Nobody talked about him, as if he was never born, which made him very outraged.”

NDT : then follows the story of Tévetat transforming himself magically into a young child covered with snakes in order to convince Achatasatrou, the son of the King of Pimmepisan to give presents to him and to participate to his conspiration against Sommona-Codom. After having being rebuked by Sommona-Codom, Tévetat went back to Achatasatrou, and persuaded him to take over his father, to become king and then give Tévetat the means to destroy Sommona-Codom. The new king gave Tévetat 500 warriors to go kill Sommona-Codom, which did not happen, Sommona-Codom being able to convince all the warriors to become his disciples. Then Tévetat keep trying to kill Sommona-Codom by throwing stones to him, with no success. Another time, he sent his most fierce elephants to crush him, again with no success.

Many other stories are told about Tévetat trying to defeat Sommona-Codom, including previous lifes’ stories. He finally end up in the Avethi hell [Avichi?].


On the “Bali” language : de la Loubère gave us pictures of the “Bali” alphabets as follows :